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Falkland Islands plans referendum on status

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The government of the Falkland Islands has announced plans for a referendum next year on the political future of British-owned South Atlantic archipelago claimed by Argentina.

Speaking on Tuesday, Gavin Short, the chairman of the islands' legislature, said he hoped the referendum would "convey a strong message to the outside world,'' about Falklanders' desire to retain ties to London.

The announcement comes shortly before the 30th anniversary of the end of the brief 1982 war when British forces reclaimed the islands following an Argentine invasion.

Buenos Aires is once again vigorously pressing its claim to the islands, known in Argentina as "Las Malvinas", with Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez planning to press her country's case at a meeting of the UN's decolonisation committee later this week

But Short said: "We are holding this referendum not because we have any doubts about who we are and what future we want, but to show the world just how very certain we are about that."

He said that he had no doubt that the people of the Falklands "wish for the islands to remain a self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom.''

'Respect and defend their choice'

David Cameron, the British prime minister, said the UK would abide by whatever choice the islanders made when they hold their vote, and urged Argentina and its allies to do the same.

"Britain will respect and defend their choice. We look to all UN members to live up to their responsibilities under the UN charter and accept the islanders' decision about how they want to live,'' he said.

Argentina accuses the UK of illegally occupying the islands since 1833, when British naval vessels claimed sovereighty over them. London accuses Buenos Aires of ignoring the wishes of the islands' population of about 3,000 people.

A total of 649 Argentines and 255 British soldiers died in the weeks-long 1982 war.

"Thirty years ago they made clear that they wanted to stay British,'' Cameron said. "That's why British forces bravely liberated the islands from Argentine invaders.''

Jeremy Browne, the UK's minister responsible for Latin American affairs who arrived in the Falklands on Sunday for a week-long visit, said the referendum would give the population a chance to "send a clear message, not just to Argentina, but to the whole of the international community, that the islanders, and they alone, are masters of their fate.''

Cameron's office said the Falklands government had discussed its plans for a referendum with Britain, but insisted it had no role in prompting the decision.

"They discussed it with us, but it's their decision and we support it,'' said a spokeswoman for Cameron's office.


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